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Volume 20 No. 42
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Beyond the dome

Vikings work on creating a new indoor experience

U.S. Bank Stadium was 70 percent complete heading into September.
It’s late summer in the Twin Cities — or what some locals call construction season, because in a place where harsh weather can rule winters, this is when builders make progress on big projects.

The Nicollet Mall, an outdoor section of downtown Minneapolis, is torn up, going through a $50 million renovation to develop more green space and better connections to the city’s sports destinations. Those include U.S. Bank Stadium, the Minnesota Vikings’ $1.1 billion facility, set to open a few blocks away in July.

Work continues at the stadium site late last month.
Across the street from the stadium, two new 17-story towers, a $300 million project expected to house 5,000 Wells Fargo Bank employees, will open for business in the next seven months.

All told, $1 billion in development surrounds stadium construction, “outstripping anything anyone had ever talked about,” said Michele Kelm-Helgen, chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the Vikings’ landlord.

Heading into September, the stadium was 70 percent complete with $590 million worth of work in place, said officials with Mortenson, the stadium’s general contractor.

The final piece of structural steel should be in place this week, six weeks ahead of schedule. For the roof, Mortenson aims to enclose the building by Nov. 1. Extreme cold hinders the installation of the ETFE panels, a clear plastic material providing fans with the feeling of being outdoors.

Despite the challenges of winter construction in the upper Midwest, the project is on track to become the fastest-enclosed NFL stadium built, a period spanning 32 months, Mortenson officials said.

Getting to this point, though, has at times been difficult, and recently was marred by tragedy. On Aug. 26, two days after SportsBusiness Journal toured the construction site, the project shut down temporarily when 35-year-old roof worker Jeramie Gruber fell to his death and a co-worker was injured. The state’s Occupational Safety and Health Division is investigating the incident.

Rendering for a field-level club. Suites will also be close to the action.
To that point, the difficulties centered largely on funding. Mortenson and the authority have a public disagreement over who should pay subcontractors $15.4 million in fees related to electrical, drywall and other work, a result of adjustments to the project that led to increased costs. It has yet to be resolved, Mortenson officials said.

The overall project cost has escalated from the original budget of $975 million approved by the state Legislature a few years ago to its current total of $1.1 billion, a figure covering hard construction plus infrastructure costs and fees paid to designers and builders.

To pay those extra expenses, the Vikings and the authority have, to date, kicked in an additional $107 million for upgrades. Those include the roof deck overlooking the city skyline at Club Purple, a premium space in the northwest corner of the upper deck created late in the design process; black anthra panels, with a dark zinc coating that will lighten over time to match the original design, for the stadium’s exterior walls on the east side; and a platform in the northwest corner to blow the gjallarhorn, a giant instrument trumpeting the Vikings’ entrance to the field.

Owner’s representative Don Becker has kept track of all costs. Becker, whose title is stadium project executive, works for the New Jersey real estate firm held by the Wilf family, the Vikings’ owner. He maintains an alternate list of design features, pending budget restrictions.

“As is typical in a real estate project, there are the things you want and the things you can afford,” Becker said. “As we’ve been working through it, we’re seeing where we can add some things back. Some were original ideas we couldn’t afford at the time. Some have come up since then.”

Throughout the process, the focus has been on fan experience. That’s why, for example, the Vikings increased the number of television screens from 816 to 2,000 to keep fans connected to the game. U.S. Bank Stadium will showcase 4K technology, one step above traditional high-definition.

The five giant pivoting glass doors forming the main entrance on the west side, a signature design element, also speak to fan experience. The sheer size and motion of those structures will provide a “wow factor” as fans walk through them from the outdoor plaza to the main concourse.

Each door is 55 feet wide, and the sloping design starts with the tallest door, standing 95 feet tall. The doors rose in price by $6 million over original estimates, in part because of the decision to use hydraulics to open them simultaneously, said Kevin Dalager, Mortenson’s construction executive.

“The doors have never been done at this scale,” said Bryan Trubey, a principal with HKS, the stadium’s architect. “The key thing at this building is the animation factor when those

doors open like that. It’s far more dramatic than sliding doors, and you can’t make proportional mistakes.”

Inside the 66,200-seat stadium, the first suite level is 16 rows from the field, closest to the action in the NFL, said Lester Bagley, the Vikings’ executive vice president of public affairs and stadium development.

Some suites will be on the field behind the home bench, giving those premium patrons a

“backstage pass” feeling, said Jon Barthelme, director of sales for Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment, the Vikings’ sales agency.

Those turf suites, the next generation of event-level seating in the NFL, come with an indoor lounge and a patio on the field with movable furniture. Those patrons don’t get seats in the bowl to watch the game, a point of separation from AT&T Stadium, the Dallas Cowboys’ home. But to those buyers, it’s more about exclusivity than the game, Van Wagner officials said.

“If you’re bringing people from out of state and entertaining those clients once a year, the turf suites are perfect,” Barthelme said. “Those people aren’t coming to watch every play of the game. They’ve all been to suites. But if you’re bringing the same clients two to three times a year, I don’t think it’s the right fit. They want to watch the game a little bit more.”

A few weeks before the 2015 regular season, Van Wagner had sold 90 percent of all premium inventory at U.S. Bank Stadium, covering suites, club seats and Club Purple’s couches and drink rail seats. The club and its fantasy football lounge is designed to cater to a younger crowd.

In addition, Van Wagner had sold 40,000 stadium builders licenses tied to both club seats and regular seats. To date, those deals represent $105 million in revenue. SBLs cost $500 to $10,000 and the high-end licenses have sold out, said Chris Allphin, Van Wagner’s senior vice president of team and venue services.

“There’s going to be a lot of purple in there,” Barthelme said.

The stadium includes 9,300 club seats, 8,000 of which come with a license.

The frames for the structure’s massive glass doors await installation; in the distance are new offices for Wells Fargo being built across the street from the stadium.
“Coming in, I would have thought [club seats] would be more of a corporate buy, but the real fans have bought into this, people with a history of having Vikings tickets in their family since the ’60s,” Barthelme said.

Ninety-seven of the 108 suites available for sale are sold or pending signed contracts. The suites range in price from $100,000 to $500,000 annually, staggered over four-, seven- and 10-year terms.

Suite revenue stands at $180 million overall and could surpass $200 million over the next 10 years, pending future sales, Barthelme said.

Those numbers could go even higher after the stadium opens. The Vikings have space to build an additional 18 suites to meet the demand for the Super Bowl. Those units would be situated one level below the upper deck on the northeast side, joining the 131 suites now under construction.

“HKS designed a building that’s intelligently scaled and allowed us to add inventory as we go along and soft-sell things like Club Purple,” said Allphin. “Then we can turn the spigot on and move those really quickly.”